George Ella's Biographical Sketches

William Carey: Using God’s Means to Convert the People of India (Part 2)

Part Two: The Mission Prospers

The mission at Serampore prospered and spread. Carey was given the most prominent building in the city for the church in which he preached for the next thirty-four years. The town of Serampore, too, prospered as it proved an asylum of peace for fugitives from the Americo-Franco-British wars and it persuaded many wealthy investors to settle there. More missionaries were urgently needed as Brunsdon soon died of a liver complaint. Fountain, who was doing pioneer work at Dinapoor, also died after a short illness. Thomas rejoined the mission but became insane and soon died.

The missionaries were able to purchase a very large house in the middle of the town with two acres of garden from the Governor’s nephew for £800. In no time, Ward had set up his press, sufficient paper was at hand and he began to print the Bengali Bible. Due to the generosity of the Danish King, the missionaries were able to add a school, a college, a hostel and private houses so that within a few years, the buildings alone of the mission station covered five acres. These were set in several acres of botanical gardens. Soon after settling in Serampore, Carey realised what a godsend Ward and Marshman were. He told the Society, “Brother Ward is the very man we wanted: he enters into the work with his whole soul. I have much pleasure in him, and expect much from him. Brother Marshman is a prodigy of diligence and prudence, as in also his wife in the latter: learning the language is mere play to him; he has already acquired as much as I did in double the time.” Ward had more difficulties with language learning but Carey found him, ‘so holy, so spiritual a man’ and he soon became a favourite of the Indian children. The missionaries drew up an order of family rules, regulating who prayed and led the worship at what times, who took care of the common purse, who looked after the medical equipment and who took care of the library. All business and trade that was done was jointly regulated by the missionaries who now called themselves ‘the Family’. The Serempore brethren had seen this work in their predecessors the Moravians and found that it worked with them equally well. Marshman wrote, “Thank you, Moravians. If ever I am a missionary worth a straw, I shall owe it, under God, to you.” Knowing human nature, it is sheer miracle that these men and women were able to live in near absolute harmony though their day was organised so that little or no private family leisure was possible.

The mission prospers

In 1789 Fuller gave the Indian mission the empty promise it would receive £360 per annum. This challenged Carey’s ideas of independence. Now the printing of the Bengali Bible was going ahead at full speed and with the income from the press and the schools alone, the missionary family became ‘more than self supporting’. So, after a further year and in order to set the Serampore mission on its own feet, they paid back every penny received from the Society. Further building projects were financed by the Indian mission itself, with the added assistance of friends in India. The Mission now owned property valued at several thousand pounds, but to avoid rumours that the missionaries were lining their own pockets they naively but ideally signed over all the Serampore Mission rights and assets to the Society. This was eventually altered to allow the missionaries a tenth of their profits in order to make provisions for widows and orphans. This meant that Carey’s Mission, now called the East Indian Mission was the Home Society’s major financial supporter in their work in lands other than India. Can you imagine it. The Mission was financing the home base, not the other way around! Though Carey’s biographers tell of the palatial circumstances under which the missionaries lived, they also tell of the great harvest of souls the missionaries now began to reap.

Already towards the end of 1800, a few Indians began to profess Christ but were persecuted by their families. Krishna Pal, however, a former guru was instrumental in having his wife, his four daughters, his wife’s family and several other Hindoos follow him to Christ and formed the first Indian church north of Madras. He became an accomplished speaker and hymn writer and Carey’s tutor in various dialects. On 29th December Carey wrote: “Yesterday was a day of great joy. I had the happiness to desecrate the Gunga (River), by baptising the first Hindoo, viz. Krishna, and my son Felix.” In many ways, however, Krishna’s baptism was a matter for sorrow. Thomas’ joy and praise at being instrumental in converting the first Bengalis made him so elated that he lost his mind, became raving mad, and had to be kept behind locked doors during the baptism service. Mrs Carey was also declared too insane to witness the baptism of her son.

Hitherto, missionaries had maintained the caste system, even sharing communion with different cups for different castes. The Serampore Trio, Carey, Ward and Marshman, announced that worship was to be caste-free. This angered many Europeans but equally caste-conscious Bengalis who maintained that the converts were now ‘Feringhi’[1. Portugese for foreigner’.] who had given up their nationality. Governor Bie’s assurance that Krishna and his friends had truly become Christians but not Europeans, failed to calm the enraged mob. Nevertheless, the flood-gates had opened and soon many Indians were moved to follow Christ. A fortnight later Jaymani, the first of many Bengali women was baptised, followed soon later by her sister Rasmayi, a leather worker’s widow named Annada and a man called Gokool, who had been converted about the same time as Krishna, was baptised with his wife. Then high caste Petumber Singh, who had sought forgiveness of sin for many years, professed Christ, followed by other high caste Indians such as Syam Dass, Petumber Mitter and his wife Draupadi. These were learned people who soon became teachers and preachers to their people. Then Muslims such as Peroo and Brahmins such as Krishna Prosad became Christians, so that within four years, forty native Indians were converted and eight from other stock. A number of these were trained as missionaries to spread the good tidings in other areas and the mission was able to provide them with a small salary.

This move of the Spirit was greatly furthered by the publication of the Bengali New Testament in March, 1801. This academic feat brought the mission to the notice of the King of England who began to take the side of the mission in her dealings with the East India Company. The East India Company complained that they had not commissioned the translation. King George replied that the task of spreading the Scriptures was outside of their jurisdiction and that he was greatly pleased that his subjects were employed in such a manner. After this, the British East Indian Company stopped their opposition.

The Serampore Trio Triumph over Opposition from the Home Front

Early blunders

It was general practice amongst missionary societies to give ‘Christian names’ to their non-European converts as a demonstration that they had started new lives. When tracing the 18th -19th century history of the Baptist mission to the Native American Indians for my book Isaac McCoy: Apostle of the Western Trail, I found so many Indians called John Gill, John Calvin or Isaac McCoy in the Southern states and Andrew Fuller in the North that it became impossible to determine if they were the same people as those formerly called Hajekathake, Pos-sa-che-haw, Nam-pa-war-rah or Sa-mau-kau. Carey allowed the Mission’s converts to keep their birth names. This was a wise move as the families of Indian believers looked upon the giving of foreign names to their dear ones as a form of apartheid, separating one family member from another. The rumour even spread that Indians with English ‘Christian’ names lost their right to be considered Indians and would be deported to England. Sadly, as soon as Carey died, the home-mission insisted on Anglicising the Indians again.

Former Brahmins, Muslims and the casteless who were now Christians sought to convince their fellow-Indians that though they had been taught to look on the outer caste of a person, God looked on their hearts and thus castes were of no account whatsoever. Thus, when casteless Gokool died, his coffin was carried by Bhyrub, a converted Brahmin and Piru, a former Muslim; besides Marshman and Felix Carey to demonstrate that they were all now one in Christ. So, too, in 1802, Krishna’s Christian daughter, a Sudra, was married to a Brahmin convert, the first Christian marriage to occur in North India. A special service was devised for the occasion based on the Church of England rite.

Two of the Mission’s new rules for converts, however, proved most controversial; one because of its foolishness and the other because it questioned the sanctity of marriage. The Mission’s lesser blunder was to give those who offered themselves for baptism six shillings each to encourage them in their stand. This was soon discontinued. Far more questionable was the Society’s attitude to marriage. The Home Mission gave highly immoral guidance. Carey aimed at converting whole families and the first male converts brought their wives and families into the fold of the church. Soon, however, both men and women were converted whose spouses refused to follow them into the baptismal waters. The missionaries prayed weekly all through 1803 for a solution to this problem but found none. Sadly, they referred the matter to Andrew Fuller who responded as the Society’s spokesman. He believed that marriages ‘outside the Lord’ were null and void and a Christian had no responsibility in wedlock to an unbelieving husband or wife. According to George Smith, Fuller therefore advised the Mission that converted Indians should do all in their power to have their spouses worship with them but if this proved impossible after a reasonable period of time, they should divorce their spouses and be free to remarry. Oddly enough, those who had several wives were not asked to divorce any of them. The Baptist Society’s advice ignored the fact that marriage was a natural creation act and love, care, devotion and faithfulness played a large role in maintaining marriage bonds, whatever the religion of the participants was. The Dissenting churches of Commonwealth times and the Church of England at the Restoration had equally stressed that marriage was a civil contract. The two who became one flesh were therefore not necessarily Christians. Marriage was for a Cain as well as an Abel; an Esau as well as a Jacob. One could not force a Christian to divorce on the grounds that he or she had married whilst unconverted. Be this as it may, within the next few years, Carey and his friends had won many converts amongst the Europeans, Asians, Eurasians and some hundred Indians were now staunch Christians. Church buildings were being raised which would have been the pride of any British church of whatever denomination. Many Indians were marrying ‘in the Lord’ and founding Christian families. The Serampore Trio’s work was thoroughly successful.

Professor Carey

The East Indian Company was now absorbed into the British Empire and in 1800, Lord Wellesley, the Governor-General, founded Fort William College at Calcutta for the instruction of imperial civil servants. Chaplain David Brown, a faithful and energetic Anglican supporter of the Mission, was chosen by Wellesley as Provost. Brilliant scholars were appointed for the various posts and Brown insisted that Carey was the man most fitted to become Professor of Bengali as he had shown his academic abilities in his translation work and other linguistic studies. Carey accepted the post and immediately received an enormous salary which was doubled after a very short period. Carey was now earning £1,500 per annum which was ten times that of a normal English pastor. Furthermore, Carey was asked to found a department for the translation of Scripture into Indian languages. Thus, though foreign missionaries were refused entrance into British Bengal for a number of years and missionaries already there were severely hindered in their work, Carey could engage Marshman and Wade in the provision of grammars, text books and translations from the Classics and Scripture for the further education of Eton scholars and the Anglo-Indian aristocracy. Carey was one of only two Europeans who could speak and write Sanskrit as well as the most learned Brahmins, so almost immediately, he was also given a professorship in Sanskrit and was able to find posts for a number of his better educated Indian converts. Over the years, he was able to build up a library of the greatest works in Sanskrit and other ancient and modern Indian and Asian languages, the bulk of these books being still available to scholars behind fire-proof doors in the Regent’s Park College Library, Oxford. For anyone hoping to do missionary work in India or academic work in the ancient Indian languages, a prolonged visit to that Library is an absolute must. My works on Baptist history have profited much from my visits there. Carey, a workaholic if ever there was one, took all the tasks of a professor in his stride and still found time to preach and teach the gospel several days a week amongst the Indians. He was also able to found and preside over an Indian training college at Serampore for future pastors and teachers.

The Society demands sole authority over the Indian Mission’s Funds and Property

The Serampore Trio invested nine-tenths of their large income in world-wide missions. The rest was used for the daily needs of the growing missionary family. Carey’s mission was thus the greatest financial supporter of the British Baptist Missionary Society worldwide. The figures speak for themselves. During Carey’s forty years in India, he personally received a mere £600 from the home committee. On the other hand, Carey donated most of the £46,000 he earned as a business man and Professor in India to the Society’s work. The other missionaries doubled this amount between them and their non-Society friends in India provided another £80,000. Rather than rejoice at this situation, the sad truth is that the more Carey’s Mission became totally self-supporting and expansive, the more the Society wished to have full control over its financial resources and the personal lives and agendas of the missionaries. The Serampore Trio wisely saw that the Society were totally lacking in the acumen needed to perform such tasks and that Fuller and Co. had no idea of the Indian situation. When Fuller strove to rule the Serampore Church like an absent vicar, he hampered the Mission’s work. He died in 1815 but his successors, who professed to ‘hold the rope’ supporting the missionaries were even worse. They began to complain that the Serampore missionaries were making themselves rich at the expense of the Mission and demanded absolute control of all property and finances from the home base. They began to treat their star missionaries as if they were fiddling the Society’s books. They became so grasping that Carey threatened to give them all the assets of the Indian Mission and go off and found another mission, run by the missionaries alone. Nevertheless, the Society advertised the work in India as their prime target for funds. Thus, people thinking they were contributing to the spread of the gospel in India were actually contributing to the mission elsewhere where the methods of the Society were far from successful, indeed disastrous. A similar state of affairs in North America prevailed where William Staughton, a co-founder of the British Baptist Mission was unwisely influential. Monies canvassed for the spread of the gospel to the Native Americans were used for the world-wide mission and a training college which barred Indians and soon went bankrupt. This scandal brought the American Society to its knees and Missionary to the Native Americans, Isaac McCoy, who strove to follow in Carey’s footsteps, eventually formed a new mission and helped found the Southern Baptist Convention.

Though Carey did not agree with the Society over the financing of the mission and was often tempted to break with them, he believed initially that his influence would be greater within the Baptist Society than without. When one reviews the accounts of the Society’s own fund raising work soberly, it is clear that the larger donations came from outside of the Committee’s denominational circle and that the amounts raised were far too modest to finance a large world-wide mission. Two great exceptions were the Society’s success in raising over a thousand pounds for Bible Society work and in meeting the costs caused by a fire in the Mission’s printing department in India. Such rare donations were paid back with interest by the Carey Mission. Even when Carey’s own family members were fitted out materially for their pioneer work by the Society, Carey regarded the Society merely as suppliers and paid them in full.

The Home Society breaks with the Serampore Trio

From 1815 to 1820, Carey gradually realised that the Society was systematically striving to hinder his work in India and destroy his missionary ideals. They had begun to send out very young inexperienced, but gifted, men in their early twenties who were told to ignore the Serampore Trio and take their orders directly from the Home Committee. They were to be directly salaried from England and there was to be no pooling of income. Ignoring the great pioneer work of Carey, Wade and Marshman, these greenhorns started up a work of their own under the name of ‘Calcutta Missionary Union’, professing to be the ‘real’ British Baptist Mission in India. This work included duplicating schools and churches to compete with those of the old mission which was typical of the Society’s own waste of their supporters’ money. Deliberately basing their work in areas where the gospel was already thriving, the newcomers refused to do pioneer work. They were obviously merely ‘cashing in’ on the Serampore Trio’s success. It was not long before some of these untrained youngsters promoted the Liberalism of Fuller, Ryland and the Halls and erred into Unitarianism. Marshman made a journey to England to sort out the mess but found the Society had lost the missionary zeal present at the time of its foundation. All the old Fullerites, including Robert Hall, were now against them. On arriving back in India after three-years’ begging the Society not to rock the boat, Carey wrote that he was shocked to find his fellow-labourer looking fifteen years older. The ‘old mission’ was now greatly restricted in their work of expansion as the new missionaries just would not cooperate with them. No wonder Carey wrote, ‘I am greatly afflicted’ and called the new Society outreach ‘a Counter-Baptist Mission’. He protested that he had understood the work of the Society as supporting their brethren on the mission field by ‘holding the rope for them’ but they had now removed their brethren from the India end of the rope and placed mere Society servants in their place. The Serampore Trio refused to become servile to the incompetent and un-Biblical whims of the Society, yet throughout this period they continued to use their income for the support of the Society’s work. When the Society groundlessly continued to accuse Carey of holding back further monies from the Society, Carey replied that he kept so little for his own daily needs that if he were to die on the spot, his widow would not have funds to pay for his funeral. However, Carey told Ryland privately that he refused to take action against the new policies of the Society and would carry on as usual not wishing to mortify anyone by proving they were wrong. Now, even Ryland turned against the missionaries and especially Marshman of whom Carey said ‘I wish I had half his piety, energy of mind, and zeal’. Ryland’s letters became plainly insulting and the Society poured ‘hailstorms of accusations’ on Marshman and Carey (William Ward died in 1823) via the Christian press. Carey’s correspondence was now cut and reshaped by the Society to show that he had been ‘unrighteous’ all along. Carey, told Ryland that he was acting evilly and regretted that his former brethren now looked on him as a renegade servant of the Society. Now, even members of Carey’s family were solicited by the Society to ‘squeal on’ Carey and Marshman. By March, 1827, Carey and Marshman were officially no longer considered the Society’s servants and were cut off from the Society’s pseudo-fellowship and support.

Two old men leave the Society to its own folly and continue God’s eternal work

It was Carey and Marshman who alone sought to bridge the great divide which had come between them and the Society. Both were men who scorned riches but were extremely successful in earning money for others in need. In 1830, they now did what they had threatened to do decades before. They signed over the entire Serampore property and income to the English Society’s trustees and merely asked to be able to live rent free with their families for the rest of their lives. The Society responded with glee but divine justice intervened; the Calcutta banks crashed so that the Society was not able to cash in on the revenues from the buildings as hoped. The Serampore work suffered less from the crash as Cary and Mashman were used to attempting great things through their own God-given energies. Now, Carey was free to get on with his missionary work without, as he said, the Society wasting his precious time. He continued with translating the Scriptures into various dialects and the last sheet of his new Bengali edition was completed in June 1832. With Lord Hastings as his patron, Carey founded a seamans’ mission in Calcutta and purchased a boat to be used as a mobile missionary station. He was even able, though now over seventy years of age, to establish new stations in a number of unevangelised areas. Suddenly, he felt it was now time to hand his mantle to the grand, eager and highly qualified group of youngsters who had kept faithful to the cause of India. Most of these were the children and grandchildren of the pioneer missionaries who had been led by the Serampore Trio. Carey confessed to them that, in his old age, he had ‘scarcely a wish ungratified’. On 9 June, 1834 William Carey passed peacefully through death to eternal life. Before his home-call, he asked for a few words from a hymn by Watts to be placed on his grave and nothing more:

A wretched, poor and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall.

The entire history of William Carey is of a man with but one divine ambition who was able, by the grace of God and despite initial blunders to accomplish all that he was called to do. That he achieved his goal is all the more astonishing in view of the enormous lack of understanding for his views of missionary strategy and evangelism shown by the very para-church organisation which had pledged itself to support him but did its level best to hamper him.

George Ella


George M. Ella is a historian, author and biographer. His writings may be accessed at the online archived, ”Biographia Evangelica”.

George M. Ella, born February 1939 in Yorkshire, England, has lived most of his life on the European Continent. He is a retired Senior Civil Servant formerly employed in teaching, post-graduate teacher-training, chairing examination boards and curricula work. He holds degrees from London, Hull, Uppsala, Essen, Duisburg and Marburg universities with doctorates in English Literature and Theology. Dr. Ella has written regularly since the seventies for a number of magazines and newspapers and published numerous books on Church History, including biographies of William Cowper, William Huntington, James Hervey, John Gill, Augustus Montague Toplady, Isaac McCoy and Henry Bullinger besides works on doctrine and education. He is currently finishing the third volume of his series 'Mountain Movers'; a biography of John Durie; a work on Law and Gospel and further study material for the Martin Bucer Seminar. Dr. Ella is still internationally active as a lecturer and is a Vice-President of the Protestant Reformation Society. He is keenly interested in missionary work and has written on the spread of the Gospel amongst the Same people of Lapland, the people of India and the Native Americans. This present volume follows Dr. Ella's 'The Covenant of Grace and Christian Baptism', also published by the Martin Bucer Seminar. George Ella is married to Erika Ella, nee Fleischman, a former government administrator, and they have two sons Mark (41), Director of a Polytechnic College in Bremerhaven and Robin (39), Leading Senior Physician in a newly-built Geriatric and Psychiatric clinic in Dessau.

George Ella on Doctrinal Matters
George Ella's Biographical Sketches